There was a time when only ‘tree huggers’ and hippies insisted on buying organic produce, but those days are long gone, especially in Switzerland. Today, the Swiss are among the biggest consumers of organic food in Europe, just behind Germans and Danes. Bio foods are no longer relegated to specialty shops and farmer’s markets. For the past 20 years, they have sold increasingly in major supermarkets, an example of consumer demand pushing big business to respond.
Migros began a partnership with Fructus of Wädenswil (ZH) in 2012 to promote the protection of old varieties of fruits and vegetables, while Coop created its Naturaplan brand back in 1993. Coop spokesman Urs Meier said Naturaplan “has been a useful Röstigraben bridge,” referring to the cultural divide between francophone and German-speaking parts. He said the divide is closing with sales of bio products in the Geneva/Lausanne area catching up with Zurich, Basel and Lucerne.
“Of course there are differences in consumer habits between French and German parts,” he acknowledges, especially when it comes to wine. “In their choice of organic sparkling wines, Swiss Germans purchase significantly more organic Prosecco, whereas organic champagnes and the Bio-Crément d’Alsace are preferred in Romadie.”
The Swiss government has long supported organic farming’s higher costs with the result that, along with Austria, it has the highest proportion of land given over to this form of agriculture in Europe. By 2009, according to Presence Switzerland, 20% of mountain farms were organic, while 11% of all farms had been awarded the organic symbol – a white bud in a green circle.
Le News SwitzerlandMeier said that 100% of Naturaplan items such as meat, eggs and dairy products come from Swiss farms and carry the bud label. In addition, imported organic items require authorization from Bio Suisse. “Only if it can be demonstrated that the product cannot be obtained within the country may it be imported.” He said that Swiss products always take precedence and virtually all Coop Naturaplan items are processed in Switzerland. Both, however, must carry the Bio Suisse label of authenticity.
Other species under cultivation by ProSpeciaRara may only be familiar to older generations: Burdock (similar to artichoke), Carambole (wild leek), Dwarf beans and Shepard’s Nettle to name a few. Another benefit has been the reappearace in Swiss markets of rare fruits like the Schweizerhose pear and the Zahnedel apple.
An ancient species from the South American Andes known as Quinoa has become popular and is making an appearance in Swiss health food shops and supermarkets. It is now starting to be cultivated in the UK and other parts of Europe. In less than a decade, however, overseas demand for the 4,000 year-old grain has created a Quinoa monoculture that has priced the once inexpensive staple out of the reach of poor people in Bolivia and Peru.